“Does super speed come at a price, Sonic? Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Sega of America
When it comes to fictional animals capable of breaking the sound barrier, there’s no beating Sonic the Hedgehog, but would he be able to survive his own super swiftness?
Sonic’s the star of the long-running Sega video game franchise, where he spins and rolls at breakneck speeds in order to defeat the evil Dr. Robotnik. How fast does he go? As his name implies, he reaches sonic speeds, meaning that he can travel as fast as a soundwave through Earth’s atmosphere: roughly 767 miles (1,235 kilometers) per hour, depending on air temperature. He also becomes "Super Sonic," so it’s safe to assume he exceeds the speed of sound as well.
That’s incredibly fast! Consider that the world’s fastest organism, the peregrine falcon, only reaches a maximum speed of 200 miles (323 kilometers) per hour. For sustained speeds, the cheetah is Sonic’s closest rival at a mere 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour. Sonic smokes them both.
So could Sonic realistically handle supersonic speeds? Let’s think about it. Humans routinely break the sound barrier in supersonic aircraft. Aboard the now-discontinued Concorde, passengers could even enjoy an in-flight meal. But this is all within the artificial confines of an airplane. All Sonic has is his incredible body.
Because his body WOULD have to be incredibly strong and durable to achieve and survive the wear and tear of supersonic speeds – even if he’s rolling through smooth tubes and chutes half the time. As "The Physics of Superheroes" author James Kakalios points out, a super-fast organism like The Flash would need super-healing abilities to rapidly recover from the physical damage of each acceleration – to say nothing of smashing into things. The same goes for Sonic.
But then again, if we’re to assume Sonic’s species evolved to reach such high speeds, he must be sturdy enough to survive it — at least in the short term. So perhaps he does have the sort of enhanced healing speeds necessary to keep all his bones and ligaments from snapping.
Or are we being too hard on Sonic? He’s a hedgehog that chases coins across a pinball landscape and, in later games, achieves faster-than-light travel. Plus, he’s still going strong after more than 27 years.
Now That’s Interesting!
As pointed out by Duke University’s Patek Labs, various animals are capable of incredible speeds when it comes to parts of their anatomy, such as the mantis shrimp’s 3-millisecond club strikes. There’s even a hypothesis that prehistoric sauropods could have whipped their tails at sonic speed like a bullwhip, but it remains rather controversial.